Here’s a message to Santa and all his elves: Please give the gift of freedom from gender stereotypes in this year’s toy deliveries.
Earlier this year, Target stopped labeling separate sections of boys’ and girls’ toys, and removed the pink and blue shelf paper that marked them. This was, at least in part, a response to a woman who tweeted a photo taken in a Target store that showed a sign for “Building sets” and “Girls’ building sets.”
This anti-stereotyping sentiment has become an international movement in the last few years. Parents in Australia, Britain and the U.S. have been imploring toy and clothing retailers and manufacturers to end the pink vs. blue divide. They are backed up by research showing that the preference for pink or blue is learned, and that most babies prefer blue until they are taught by the culture which color is supposedly appropriate for their gender. In fact, the pink/blue divide didn’t exist before the 1940s.
Children’s toys really do influence how kids think about themselves and their future.
Kids are very observant about what they are “supposed” to be and do, and eager to avoid the teasing that comes from playing with toys or choosing clothing that is “wrong” for their gender. Toy choices truly can narrow children’s life choices when toys marketed for one gender promote the development of different skills and interests than the other.
Last year, President Obama participated in a Toys for Tots event where he was asked to sort toys into separate girls’ and boys’ boxes. He purposefully put a basketball, a T-ball set and other active toys in the girls’ box, and did running commentary about wanting to “break down these gender stereotypes” and “be sure some girls are playing ball.”
But of course there is also backlash. An Australian politician grumphed, “I think all the presents I have anything to do with — all the boys are getting guns and the girls are getting dolls.” And it’s apparently men with his mentality who have been in charge of toy marketing.
If you walk through the toy aisles at any large store, you can see just how intensely gendered the toys are. Even without labeling which aisle is for boys and girls, it’s apparent that one aisle is relentlessly pink and princess-ridden and another features more varied colors of action figures and active toys.
Every child should be able to choose from the full selection of toys that foster their full array of skills. So this holiday season, let’s let toys be toys and kids be kids.